According to the RSPB over half of all adults in the UK feed birds in their garden. At this time of year when food becomes scarce it becomes increasingly important to leave out high energy foods which will help birds maintain their fat reserves in order to survive the cold weather. By late autumn there are less insects, worms and snails for birds to feed on but the hedgerows are laden with berries, providing nutritious pickings for birds.
The dry pith of ivy berries are stuffed with as many calories as a bar of chocolate, providing birds with much needed energy. In most cases, while the bird digests the pith and juice, the seeds travel undamaged through the bird’s gut, and may be dropped many miles from the parent plant. It’s no coincidence that young trees grow near a fence or post that a bird might perch on.
To tempt birds into my garden I have employed a bird feeding station. Five caged feeders swing off hooks, offering an all-day open buffet of sunflower seeds, fat bars, mealworms and peanuts but lately I can’t top up the bird feeders fast enough. A few weeks ago a pair of very fat pigeons moved in and now patrol the feeding station for several hours a day. The pigeons sit on top of the bird table or perch on the telephone wire above and swoop at the blue tits chancing a visit to one of the hanging feeders. Every day these two greedy pigeons grow more territorial, although a bossy robin who lives in the hedge refuses to be intimidated by them.
The irony is the pigeons can’t easily access the food in the caged containers, but they spend hours contemplating a strategy or attempting a ‘fly-by and peck,’ which causes some of the seed to fall on the ground. When filling up the feeders a lot of the seed spills on the floor and I think it was this which caused them to home in on my garden. But one of the most annoying side-effects of the pigeons is the vast quantities of bacteria ridden droppings they leave behind. The water dish is swimming with bacterial nastiness. Keep the birds in your garden safe by following these hygiene tips:
Keep your bird table germ free
- In the interests of hygiene, always adjust the quantity given to the demand. If the food takes days to clear, reduce the amount of food you’re offering.
- Never allow uneaten foods to accumulate around the feeders which will only serve to encourage squirrels.
- Food on the ground should be cleared before night fall or rodents may be attracted into your garden.
- If you have a cat, or there are cats in the vicinity, avoid using a ground feeder.
- Damp weather can make the seed go moldy – check the contents of the feeders and if you spot any deterioration throw it out as it could cause the birds to be ill.
- Keep your bird tables and surrounding areas clean and free from droppings or mouldy food, which can provide breeding grounds for parasites and bacteria. If large amounts of droppings have accumulated, they should be cleared and burnt and the ground cleansed with a disinfectant.
- Clean and wash your bird table and hanging feeders regularly (ideally, using a 5% disinfectant solution), and move feeding stations to a new area every month to prevent droppings accumulating underneath.
- Water containers should be rinsed out daily and allowed to dry out before fresh water is added.
- Don’t bring your feeders into your house to clean them – do it outside, using separate utensils. Wear gloves when cleaning feeders and bird tables, and particularly if you need to handle a sick or a dead bird in your garden. Pigeons can be infested with ticks. Always wash your hands when you’ve finished.